Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Slightly Newer Hope

It wasn’t a life-changing moment, but I remember my first.

Some would call it my first, others would call it “crafty”. Whatever you decide to call it, it wasn’t manufactured, tasteless and marketed to the mass. Like many other’s “firsts”, I didn’t even buy it (it’s hard to when you’re 20). I only tried it because it was what he, the person of legal age, bought. 

Sometimes, choices are made for you.

I can’t say I never looked back. I still drank cheap beer. A $12.99 30-pack of beer looks pretty enticing to a 21-year-old who has no income and just wants to get drunk.

The reason that good beer even became a part of my life is because it represented variety. A break from my groundhog day life: I lived on four or five different foods, my two “hobbies” were video games and TV and my stereotypical weekend nights featured brown-to-black outs.

But this new thing in my life was just a little bit different. There were choices. Porters. India Pale Ales. Witbiers. Oh my!

For the first year or so, it was just that. An occasional break from the “bottom of the barrel”. You’ve got to show a little bit of class, right?

Skip ahead to some point in time when craft beer started to give me ambition (are we still calling it craft beer these days?). It injected motivation and the drive to succeed into my veins. I often joke that craft beer saved me.

Craft beer saved me.

A bold statement to make. An exaggeration? Hardly. I submit the following evidence to the courts.

Exhibit A: Food.

Five years ago, I wouldn’t even think about eating mushrooms. Mushrooms are a common flavor in some styles of beer derived commonly from “earthy” styles hops. I am quite fond of most, if not all, of these styles of beer. Today, mushrooms have crept their way into my regular diet.

In my early 20s, I wouldn’t dare put lettuce and onions on my burger. As you are learning to really deconstruct a beer, you find out just how important mouthfeel and texture are. Now, the added texture to the burger leaves me wondering why I never let them join the dinner party before.

Exhibit B: Focus.

You know that guy who always has a clever idea that is just going to “take off?” That idea that is nothing short of genius in his head...and only his head? 

That was me.

I once proudly declared that I was going to build a mountain in Chicago. Yes, a mountain. I would use garbage and construction zone clay waste as my base. Build it up from there. Chicago’s lack of snow? Not an issue. My innovative mind quickly devised a plan to build an air-conditioned shelter over this mountain.

(Disclaimer: I did not want to build an indoor ski hill like the one in Dubai. No, I wanted to build a one thousand vertical drop mountain complete with powder days, cliffs and 365 days of snow.)

I worked for about a month on the plan until I decided I should instead start a ski magazine that only documented skiing in the Midwest. Add in my other flavors of the month: writing the great american novel, building a recording studio, moving to New Zealand, filming a documentary where I travel to all 50 states in 50 days.

The defense rests, your honor.

It was clear that none of these things ignited a fire inside of me. Yet all along, through all of these crackpot ideas, craft beer was starting to play a bigger role in my everyday life. I found myself reading breweries’ websites in my spare time, buying a few beer books here and there (Tasting Beer, The Joy of Homebrewing, The Brewmaster's Table), spending more and more time at the liquor store seeing what was available on the shelf and even setting a goal of trying 1,000 different beers. 

It was then that I realized something. I was a beer geek. I can’t tell you how, when or where, just why. 

Back to the part where craft beer “allegedly” gave me ambition and motivation. I have a college degree, but only because I was supposed to go to college after high school. I don’t have much on my life’s resume. That is, until about five months ago when I finally accomplished something on my own accord.

I heard about this program called “The Cicerone Certification Program.” After looking into it, I decided that this is the direction my life should go. And perhaps this time, I would stick with it.

(Spoiler alert! I stuck with it.)

It’s the first thing I’ve stuck with in my life. An accomplishment I completed with grit and sacrifice over a nine month period. I don’t work in the beer industry and no one forced me to take the Cicerone.

I became a Cicerone for me.

So that brings us to this blog. I promised myself I would start one if I passed the Cicerone test. I love to write and I also like beer just a little bit, so it made sense. This is my second attempt at beefing up my life’s resume.

What will I write about? Let’s get this out of the way and say that I will NOT be reviewing beers. Beer Advocate and Rate Beer already have that covered.

A couple ideas that pop out of my head include:

“How I became a Cicerone without working a day in the industry”

“Brewers and Actors: Something to romanticize about”

“The dark side of Oktoberfest in Munich”

Stop me if anyone has written articles like these. With the internet giving everyone a voice these days, originality is hard to come by.

I leave you with some words of wisdom someone from a brewery once gave me. I cannot tell you the circumstances under which he gave them to me but I can tell you they resonated. So much so that at 9am every single day, my phone alerts me with his advice. Words so simple and obvious that, I wonder why I didn’t think of it.

Work hard, absorb and act humble....and eventually it will happen.

Matt, I am trying every single day.

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